It Was a Rush to Judgment
Last May, I wrote about the recently issued indictments of six police officers as a result of the death of Freddie Gray. At the time I noted,
The Freddie Gray case is unusual from some other high profile police involved deaths, such as the one in Ferguson. This isn’t a case of an officer using deadly force justified as self-defense. This wasn’t a death caused by the resistance of an arrest like the Eric Garner case in New York. In the Gray case, while there is plenty of facts to dispute, there is no question that Mr. Gray was in police custody and that no officer exercised lethal force in reaction to any action by Mr. Gray.
Some legal background in important. The indictments are charges. They represent the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s assertion that there is sufficient evidence to support a probable cause finding that the charged crimes occurred. It is not a statement of guilt and the defendant officers will have every opportunity not only to defend the charges substantively but even to dismiss the indictments if the evidence is truly insufficient to support them.
Today, we have the second acquittal after trial of one of these officers. Judge Barry G. Williams, having heard all the evidence and argument, issued a thorough and well thought out opinion finding that the state had failed to prove that Officer Caesar Goodson was guilty of any of the charges against him. The most damning statements from Judge Williams opinion:
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This Court is constrained by the law to base its decisions on the facts presented in Court. While certainly possible, the evidence presented at this trial, even if looking at only the State’s witnesses, does not lead this Court to the conclusion that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Gray was in need of medical treatment between stops 2 and 5 and that the defendant, or an officer similarly situated, would have or should have known that Mr. Gray was necessarily in need of medical treatment at stops 2 through 5.
Seemingly, the State wants this Court to simply 8 assume that because Mr. Gray was injured, and the defendant failed to seat belt him after stop 2, allegedly ran a stop sign, and made a wide right turn, that the Defendant intentionally gave Mr. Gray a rough ride. As the trier of fact, the Court cannot simply let things speak for themselves. A thorough review of all of the State’s witnesses shows that not one was able to state a definition of a rough ride with the exception of Mr. O’Neill, who indicated his opinion of what a rough ride was, but was unsure if one occurred here. The investigator for the police department, Officer Boyd indicated that after his review of all of the evidence, he did not see any indication of a rough ride.
I noted last year that this idea of a “rough ride” was a known phenomenon in Baltimore City. The reality of documented police abuses led me then to provide the following admonition:
Bottom line, conservative knee jerk reactions to these indictments are ill-advised. Let’s allow the legal process to play out, criticize any lack of due process, acknowledge the presumption of innocence, view all the evidence critically and be open to the idea that there are no “white hats” in this case.
Reading the court’s opinion, it is now clear that the criticisms that the indictments were politically motivated and lacked a sufficient evidentiary basis were correct. While many of the claims last May of alleged pre-existing injuries or self-inflicted injuries have long been debunked, the essential lack of evidence that Officer Goodsen, among others, engaged in any legally criminal conduct is now abundantly clear. Judge Williams listened to all the evidence, carefully considered the law objectively and reached a just conclusion.
I must also note that last May, many commentators insisted that the officers charged in the Freddie Gray matter could not get a fair trial in Baltimore. Typical of the hyperbole in this regard were the comments of aspiring talking head Milwaukee County Sherriff David Clarke who said
“Clarke was asked if he believed the officers could get a fair trial in Baltimore, he responded, “no, I don’t. I really don’t…I think it’s too highly charged right now for them to get a fair shot.”
As today’s opinion confirms, justice is alive and well in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City and David Clarke doesn’t know what he is talking about.
With two full trials and such stinging rebukes of the State’s case, it would behoove Baltimore City State’s Attorney to drop the charges against the remaining officers. What was suspected a year ago has now been laid bare, these prosecutions lacked merit and appear to only be politically motivated.